Saturday Matinee #118: "Mickey Down Under" (March 19, 1948)
Published April 6, 2013
by Albert Gutierrez
G'day, mate-ineers! I thought I'd fancy a trip to the land down under with my favorite mouse. No, I'm not talking about Jake, the kangaroo mouse from The Rescuers Down Under. Naturally, I'm talking about Mickey, and his 1948 trip to Australia in the aptly titled "Mickey Down Under." Not much of interest really happens, but the short is significant in Mickey's own history. Let's read on and discover what's so important about Mickey's one-time visit to the land down under.
Mickey and Pluto are trekking through the Australian wilderness, hoping that Mickey's trusty boomerang can prove helpful. He throws it towards a bushel of bananas, expertly chopping one down, peeling it, and sending it into his eager mouth. But the boomerang may be more trouble than its worth, its return trip sometimes causes trouble for Pluto, and later Mickey. Needless to say, the boomerang seems to take on a life of its own, much to Pluto's annoyance. Try as he might, Pluto cannot seem to rid himself of the troublesome object.
As Mickey searches for Pluto and his boomerang, he instead comes across a large egg. Our curious mouse decides to take it with him, until he bumps into the egg's mother - a very angry emu. As Mickey tries to clean the egg of all its dirt and debris, he only works to ire the mother even more. She attacks him as best as awkward emus can, with Pluto and the errant boomerang to the eventual and unintended rescue. Now with the boomerang ever on their tails, Mickey and Pluto run away as quickly as they can.
"Mickey Down Under" is a rather standard short, as I said before, nothing much of interest happens here. Mickey and Pluto visit Australia, if only to have some boomerang gags and give Mickey a cool hat. But even the gags don't feel as exciting as they appear. The first half deals with Pluto's own troubles with the boomerang, none of which stand out. When Mickey faces off against the large emu, we get some fun issues involving scale. For once, Mickey could be seen as the proper "mouse size" when compared to the large flightless bird. But this gag is just as fleeting as the others, and none really remain with the viewer. Actually, I take that back. One of the best parts about this short occurs in a very minor scene. After Mickey has realized he took the emu's egg, he offers it back to her, then notices a spot of dirt. He attempts to pull out a handkerchief from his pocket, but in his nervousness, causes the entire contents of his pocket to spill out. Among the contents are marbles, a yo-yo, kite string, a whistle, and his Swiss Army Knife. Just take a look below:
These objects really don't mean much in the context of the gag. The audience would naturally be amused to see everything *but* the handkerchief fall out. Mickey does succeed in pulling out the handkerchief, but I was still concentrating on the extra bits. These are all playthings (Swiss Army Knife excluded) for children, and Mickey - as far as we know - is an adult. Thus, the gag suddenly becomes a strange reminder of Mickey's multi-generational appeal. Children would be delighted to see that Mickey still carries with him some marbles in case a game ever got underway. Likewise, the yo-yo's universal appeal remains unmatched (even if I've never mastered it beyond the ability to pretend to hypnotize friends). The Swiss Army Knife remains something very much more adult-oriented than for children, but also shows that he's within an age that not only knows how to use it, but carries it around regularly in case he has a need for it. Perhaps that may be far-reaching, but at this point in Mickey's career, he's grown into a responsible young man - after all, Mickey is nearing twenty years old in this short.
Twenty years old is also where we get to the significance of this short. This would be Mickey's first appearance with a new voice. By 1948, Walt Disney had been growing too busy to continually voice the character. Years of smoking made it harder for him to attain the high falsetto for which Mickey was known. In addition, Mickey had made very few appearances in the recent years - the past two years had only seen two shorts ("Squatter's Rights" and "Mickey's Delayed Date"), along with the 35-minute "Mickey and the Beanstalk" in Fun and Fancy Free. However, Walt knew he would have to hand off the vocal responsibility of Mickey to someone else if the character were to continue. Starting with 1948's "Mickey Down Under" and ending in 1977, Jimmy MacDonald voiced Mickey Mouse. The only exceptions during this 29-year span were Mickey's appearances on the original "Mickey Mouse Club," when Walt returned to the voice - noticeably deeper, but still with that special Waltness.
"Mickey Down Under" has made an appearance on three Disney DVDs, four if we count international releases. The original U.S. DVD for The Rescuers Down Under did not contain the short, although it was included on most of the international releases, including - appropriately - the Australian release. Despite Disney's release of The Rescuers Down Under to Blu-Ray last year, they didn't include the cartoon among the supplements. However, there are still the other three DVDs to consider. First, and best, is 2004's "Walt Disney Treasures: Mickey Mouse In Living Color, Volume Two." The cartoon was later included in the first volume of "It's A Small World of Fun!", released in 2006. Both the original short and an edited version (whittled down to a mere two and a half minutes) were included in 2010's "Have A Laugh: Volume Four."